- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 20, 2002

LONDON (Agence France-Presse) As long as there are still men alive who fought in World War II, the name of Dame Vera Lynn will evoke a whole stream of bittersweet memories.

The singer, who celebrates her 85th birthday today, achieved near superstar status as "The Forces' Sweetheart" from 1941 to 1945, with a stream of romantic and patriotic ballads that did much to boost the morale of the Allied troops, wherever they fought.

From the battlefields of France, the Netherlands, Italy and North Africa to the Far East, whenever soldiers gathered around a radio set, the smooth voice of Vera Lynn was sure to be heard.

It is impossible to gauge the influence that songs like "There'll Always Be an England," "We'll Meet Again," "(There'll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover" had on the outcome of the war, but they seemed to offer the troops a sterling vision of what they were fighting for.

The lyrics might sound more than a little corny to modern ears, but in a more innocent era, their patriotic appeal was irresistible.

Vera Lynn came to epitomize an archetypical, essentially decent Britishness, wholesome and fair-minded, notions that shone through in her songs.

Even her version of the German soldiers' favorite song, "Lili Marlene," managed to sound like a patriotic lament, a far cry from the darker sexual undercurrents implicit in the versions by Marlene Dietrich and Lale Andersen.

But Vera Lynn's most famous song remains "We'll Meet Again." Its emotional appeal, with the words "Keep smiling through/Just like you always do/Till the blue skies/Drive the black clouds far away," made it the perfect wartime anthem and contributed enormously to her popularity, even though the song itself came to be much parodied and derided in the postwar years.

Born in London's East End on March 20, 1917, she began singing in local clubs at the age of 7 and became a teen-age sensation as vocalist with the Howard Baker Orchestra at 15. She made her first radio broadcast in 1935 with the Joe Loss Orchestra when Charlie Kuntz hired her as a vocalist.


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